2012 Presidential Elections: Social Media Reveals Economic Concern

Emily Chambliss

Social media is a powerful force that can promote or destroy the success of individuals, entities, and ideas.   Most companies acknowledge that social media affects their business, altering the consumer landscape, though they cannot quite explain how it works.   Even the world’s most gifted scientists, mathematicians, economists, and analysts are perplexed by the exact mechanism by which social media networks affect the spread of ideas.   But they are aware of the immense power of social media, and presidential campaign managers know it, too.  That’s why the presidential candidates have established and continue to maintain a presence on social media platforms, notably Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and they likely have social media consultants monitoring and analyzing online discussions about them.

Drawing insights from the expansive web of online chatter can be a daunting task without the assistance of sophisticated technology.  Using Tracx, a social media data-collecting tool, I gathered social media data on the presidential race: the candidates, political parties, and top political issues.   By crafting Boolean queries that inform the tool’s crawlers, I cast a net to capture relevant data from social media spaces.  I analyzed data collected from the 1/1/12 to 2/14/12 in order to gauge the nature of online conversations and public concerns about the upcoming elections.

Unsurprisingly, blogs were the most popular social platform for political discussions with 79% of all conversations about the elections occurring there.  Facebook, forums, Twitter, and YouTube served as secondary spaces for public discussions about the elections, nearly evenly splitting the remaining 21% of conversations.   (Note: Data from forums and Facebook reflects only public-facing pages or parts of pages.)

Comparing the volume of conversations for political topics revealed a dominant concern.  The fiscal budget and national debt was the most heavily discussed political issue, occupying 35% of conversations about the presidential elections.   The national debt topic generated over twice as many posts and conversations as any other monitored topic, and it has remained the most popular political topic since the beginning of the 2012 election.

Taxation was a topic in 16% of conversations about the presidential elections.  The topic spurred over 1.5 times more posts and conversations than the less popular topics.  When looking at national debt and taxation combined, they accounted for 52% of all posts and 50% of all conversations about the elections.   The dominant monetary focus of online conversations reflects a widespread insecurity about the nation’s economic future.  With the economy slowly rebuilding after the recent recession, the comparative volume of these public discussions shows that economic concern for America’s future will be a powerful factor that voters will take to the polls.


The presidential candidates assert their stances on relevant issues, the emphasis of which varies depending on the perceived concerns of the audience.  But the social media audience is not limited to geography; they read blogs, articles, tweets; they share links on Facebook; they watch debates on YouTube; they engage in meaningful public political discussions.  Listen to them.  What they are saying is they want to avoid economic collapse.   Tailoring speeches to appeal to specific states may win political support, but listening and responding to the dominant themes in social media conversations can be a valuable component of an effective campaign strategy.

You can follow Emily on twitter @EmilyChambliss

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